Lady Bella Photos
The Story of the Lady Bella
- Ghost Ship
This is the L O N G version of the Lady Bella story.
I would offer a short version but the interesting thing about this story is
in the details of the effort spent to find the lost ship.
I had kept a sort of
diary of this story, as it happened. Here it is..............
The Lady Bella -
The Lady Bella was scheduled to arrive in
Hawaii on August 11, 1999. The crew was forced to abandon the ship on
August 5th, due to a fire in the engine room. The ship is 486 feet long
with a cargo-hold of 160 cars, trucks, buses, engines, machinery, paraffin,
steel pipe and a chemical called "sodium hydroxide". The chemical became
the immediate concern of the crew when the fire started. They made radio
contact with a cargo ship, just prior to making their final exit from the
Lady Bella. The entire crew of the Lady Bella launched a life raft, left
their ship and waited to be rescued from the sea.
The second cargo shop detoured from their
original coarse to offer aid to the abandoned crew members. The owners of
the Lady Bella could not negotiate a deal with the rescue ship to stay
on-station with the Lady Bella, so - the Lady Bella was left adrift in the
Pacific, with no crew.
Per the rules of the open sea, anyone finding
the ship can claim it. Anyone claiming the ship, must also accept
responsibility for it.
MPC was initially contracted by the insurance company
for the Lady Bella to find the ship and reclaim it. The 95 foot SS
Midway ship and crew were initially hired for this mission. Later, one
of the Midway tugboats was also hired to accompany the SS Midway to
search for the Lady Bella. In addition, planes flying to/from Midway
were requested to visually look for the ship.
After first arriving at the estimated location of the
Lady Bella, they only found an abandoned life raft bobbing on the
ocean. Several days were spent looking for the ship but it could not be
found. The Lady Bella life raft was pulled back to Midway Island as
proof that they were on-site.
Several attempts to find the Lady Bella were
made, prior to my start of the diary. The ship was actually found,
then lost again, prior to the 9/30 entry below.
9/30/99 - Lady Bella
The second time that the ship was found, all fires
were out. The Ships cargo hold seems to be OK but no one knows for
sure. The fire started in the ships engine compartment and basically
wiped out the living quarters. The engine room was also taking on water
when the ship was abandoned.
The owners of the Ghost Ship, the Lady Bella, have
paid $7,500.00 for custom satellite imagery passes over the Pacific to
find their lost ship. The first satellite pass did not find the ship.
Even more amazing, it did not find the SS Midway. It turns out that the
SS Midway was only slightly outside of the satellite image target path.
Due to very low fuel supplies, the SS Midway has been drifting for the
past 2 days waiting for satellite imagery to ID the ships location. The
seas have been very bad but the owners of the ship had high hopes with
the satellite imagery idea. They decided to purchase another image pass
with a slightly different target path. Today those results came in -
no ship. Hard to believe that a 500 foot cargo ship cannot be found
with this much effort and high-tech gadgets.
The primary mission of our SS Midway was to tie a
line on the ship and reclaim it for the owners. They were also planning
to install a solar powered transmitter on board the Lady Bella so that
the world could keep track of it.
At this time the ship presents no immediate danger to
the US so it's not high on the Coast Guard's priority list. The Coast
Guard has been very helpful in providing best estimate coordinates based
on winds and water current.
Today the Coast Guard advised that they will be
flying in a nearby region on a different mission. The Coast Guard
offered to look in the general area in conjunction with their primary
mission. This is exactly what was needed about 3 days ago when the SS
Midway was on-site. The SS Midway is now being forced to return to
Midway. The owners of the ship have decided that they've spent enough
money looking it.
The Lady Bella has been found 3 times now. First by
the passing freighter who rescued the crew, next by the Coast Guard on a
non-related mission and then by another freighter.
10/29/99 - Lady Bella -
The Lady Bella (our Ghost Ship) has been bobbing
around the Pacific since it was abandoned on August 5th.
The owners of the ship and the ship's insurance
company were able to provide tracking data that shows the ship drifting
in giant circles in the Pacific. They offered predictions that it would
sooner or later crash into a reef and could offer serious environmental
damage. The Coast Guard agreed to fly their C130 on a dedicated mission
to find the ship once again. They were planning to drop a device in the
water that would stay with the general water currents of the ship and
broadcast coordinates for others to find. The only problem is that the
device they were going to drop would only transmit for 2 days before
it's batteries were depleted.
The Ghost Ship was found again yesterday by the
Coast Guard C130 about 300 miles from Midway. It has now been found
5 times. At this time plans are being made, once again, on how to
find the ship (with surface equipment), claim the ship and what to
do with it.
11/3/99 - Lady Bella -
The Ghost Ship (Lady Bella) has been
Members of Rex Terry's company, who often
does this type of recovery work, flew to Midway today with a
mission to find the ship and claim it. They were able to find
it on their way to Midway. It is now only 153 miles away from
Midway. Some of the best navigators are predicting that the
Ghost Ship could arrive at Midway in 10 days. It's now drifting
at 20 miles per day.
All this time, we had been trying to find
the Lady Bella when all we had to do was let the Lady Bella
It has now been found 6 times since it
was abandoned on August 5th. We are notifying the Coast
Guard of the new coordinates and the predicted drift
coarse. They may also become involved again.
Rex Terry's crew will be hiring our SS
Midway (again) to go to the Ghost Ship while his airplane
keeps us updated with accurate coordinates. They are
planning to tie up to the ship and re-claim it. They will
also go on-board the ship and see if it is towable. If it
can be towed, they will most likely tow it to Canada. Who
knows what kind of shape it is in after bobbing around the
Pacific for 3 months.
Even getting on-board a ship of this size
will be a big effort. There will be no one on it to help
with the transfer. Depending on the seas, and they have
been very rough lately, they may only be able to stay with
the ship and keep a line attached. The ship is loaded with
160 cars and sodium hydroxide. I'm told that when sodium
hydroxide mixes with water it becomes volatile and could
explode which is one of the reasons that the ship was
abandoned to begin with.
11/5/99 - Lady Bella -
Today the SS Midway and the airplane
returned to the last coordinates. While the SS Midway
was doing a surface search, with radar, the airplane was
also searching from high above with radar and by sight.
After searching until dark, they were
NOT able to find the ship. The SS Midway is a small
ship, only about 95 feet long. The seas are very rough
but they will continue searching through the night with
radar. The airplane has returned to Midway for fuel and
pilot rest and they will start all over again tomorrow
at first light.
The Coast Guard may also become
involved tomorrow, again.
11/6/99 - Lady Bella -
At first light this morning, in the
rain, the King Air, left Midway again to search for the
Ghost Ship, Lady Bella. The Ghost Ship is estimated to
be closer to Midway than ever before. Our SS Midway is
on-site and is now drifting to establish water current
drift rates. Since the action is now closer to Midway,
we have better communications with both the aircraft and
our SS Midway ship.
The latest is that the King Air
was reporting a hot engine but was going to continue
to search as long as they could. The King Air plane
was chartered by Rex Terry, an independent business
man from Texas, for a defined period of time. The
pilots have other full-time jobs and must return to
Honolulu after this morning's search. Rex is
planning to charter another plane with crew to
continue his search. He is also trying to set up
some large tug boats that will be ready if needed.
The Ghost Ship is still in
International waters but the Coast Guard is now
more concerned about the ship because of it's latest
coordinates and drift coarse. The Coast Guard has
been trying to encourage us to keep looking for the
ship. They have made it known that if the ship gets
within 24 miles of Midway that they will sink
it. They will most likely use F15's from Hawaii
to do the job. We are trying to encourage the Coast
Guard to launch their C130 to find the ship again
since our SS Midway is now on-site. Timing is
becoming critical now. If the ship were found by
our SS Midway today, there may not be enough time to
launch tugs from Hawaii. We would also consider
launching our tug boats from Midway in an effort to
keep it outside the 24 mile limit. Our Midway
tugboats aren't big enough to tow a 486 foot ship
but they may be able to push it into a holding
We have estimated that Rex
Terry has already spent nearly $100,000.00 of his
own money on this mission with no guarantee of a
return on his investment.
The last sighting of the ship was
on Thursday. For all we know, it may have already
sank but we are still looking for the Ghost Ship,
11/6/99 - Lady Bella -
Daylight is now closing. The
Ghost Ship Lady Bella remains unclaimed.
The SS Midway is still on-site but is now
underway on another grid pattern search.
I will not be able to provide any further updates
of the Ghost Ship story until I return to Midway in a week or so.
My father died today.
11/12/99 - Lady Bella -
The coast guard sent a C130 out last weekend
and spotted the ship. At the time, the SS Midway was about 80
miles away and did not get on scene until the next morning. Crew
from the SS Midway boarded the Lady Bella on last Monday and
placed a GPS transmitter on board (so it won't be lost again).
The ship is sitting low in the stern because of some flooding,
associated with the fire suppression. Fire damage is pretty
limited and most of the cargo appears intact. The ship's drift
path has shifted to the west and, more recently, to the
north.....so it appears there is no imminent risk of grounding.
At this point, the SS Midway will likely remain on station until
a contracted salvage tug arrives from Honolulu.
11/26/99 - Lady Bella -
The Lady Bella is a Ghost Ship once
We just received word that the Lady Bella
has broken loose from it's tow with the ocean tug, Nokia,
and is now drifting once again. The large tug from Honolulu
had been towing the Lady Bella against very heavy seas when
they noticed that they were making negative progress.
For the past 4 days, Midway has been
having near hurricane force winds. Our winds have been not
less than 40 mph and as high as 69 mph. This has caused
lots of trouble with trees and power lines all over the
island. Several roofs and buildings are even beginning to
show wind damage. The ocean is rolling over the top of our
harbor piers. In my term on Midway, I have not yet
witnessed winds that were so bad for so long. The latest
estimate is that we should have at least 24 more hours of
The Lady Bella had been rigged with log
chain for towing. Each link of the log chain weighs 30
pounds. This is a serious chain that is about 260 feet long
and then connecting on to a longer cable. The tugboat was
towing the ship against 18 foot seas when they discovered
that they were being pulled backwards by the Lady Bella.
When they increased the thrust, the chain finally broke. At
this time, we have been told that the ship should not drift
toward any island and the large tug boat is still staying
with the ship. The Lady Bella and the tugboat are now about
230 miles from Midway.
11/27/99 - Lady Bella -
The Lady Bella is still on top of the water
and still drifting. The Honolulu tug boat, Nokia, has now made
a call to Midway Phoenix for assistance to re-connect the tow
line to the Lady Bella. Our SS Midway was in-harbor at Midway
and ready for a trip, not related to the Lady Bella, but is now
being reconfigured for assisting the Lady Bella - -again.
Our winds, here at Midway have let up
a little and shifted directions. Wind speeds are now around
28 mph. Winds are from the SE and blowing debris onto the
runway. This morning Mike Gautreaux actually found a
fishball, on the runway. Heavy winds were measured at 69
mph for four days in a row. Lots of damage around the
Sea conditions at the Lady Bella are
still very bad. The tug crew has estimated that they are in
about 18 foot seas but our local SS Midway driver thinks
they are probably much higher. The tug boat cannot even get
close to the Lady Bella with seas this bad. The ship is
being allowed to drift on her own. The stern of the Lady
Bella is now at sea level. It has apparently taken on more
water since it was last boarded. There are lots of
equipment pieces banging around on the inside of the engine
room which was totally flooded to put out the initial fire.
One member of the Rex Terry crew told me that the Honolulu
tug boat (Nokia) was costing him $12,000.00 per day. Our SS
Midway will cost them an additional $7,500.00 per day.
Before you know it, were talking real money. The ship is
still closer to Midway than to Hawaii.
One other note, we discovered why the
Lady Bella was so hard to find. The rudder of the ship is
fixed at a steady slow turn. The ship is big enough (486
feet) that it actually sails when the winds are blowing.
Most of the surface hunting for the Lady Bella was done
using ocean current drift predictions. As it turns out, the
winds were actually allowing the Ghost Ship to sail the
Pacific and against ocean currents.
12/1/99 - Lady Bella -
Our SS Midway ship left Midway with plans
to repair the towing bridle between the ocean tug and the
Lady Bella. By the time our SS Midway arrived on-site the
seas and winds were mostly normal again. This time they
rigged two chain bridles to the Lady Bella. Now there are 2
log chain bridles that are attached to about 2000 feet of
cable. The recent heavy seas have really tossed vehicles on
the top deck. Many of the trucks started out with cars
strapped to their beds. Some of those cars have since broke
loose and are now on the top deck, some are hanging over the
side of ship.
At one point in time, they were going
to pull the Lady Bella close to Midway so that sea water
could be pumped from the ship and to refuel the tug
boat. Since the seas have now returned to normal, they
have once again decided to pull toward Honolulu. The
ocean tug (Nokia) pulling the Lady Bella is low on fuel
and may not have enough to make it back to Honolulu.
They are now arranging to have the tug boat re-fueled
Weather here at Midway is perfectly
normal once again. The water around Midway is smooth
enough for water skiing and the sun is shinning bright.
12/12/99 - Lady Bella -
The Lady Bella is approaching
Hawaii. As we had anticipated, the State of Hawaii
will not allow the Lady Bella to come into any port
in the State. They arrived at their destination
location today which is about 6 to 8 miles outside
of the legal boundary for the State.
The salvage crew, that has
claimed the Lady Bella, is planning to pump all
water out of the engine room, stabilize the cargo
and prepare for another long pull to South
America. Rex Terry's organization will most likely
find a port in South America that will allow the
Lady Bella to off-load and sell the cargo.
1/17/2000 - Lady Bella -
Today we received a message
indicating that the Lady Bella was allowed to come into
port at Pier 7 at Barbers Point. The ship has been
there now since 1/15/00. The message states that the
vessel is in good condition. It also says that they are
continuing to de-water the vessel. The message also
states that the ship has "leaking hull penetrations".
They are planning to continue
removing oily water from the engine room. There is also
a hole in the upper #4 cargo hold. Our message states
that the case is still pending.
The ship had been lost and pulled
around for 4 months before finally arriving at Barbers
Lady Bella sued
An abandoned cargo ship that
was towed to Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor in January is the
subject of a lawsuit filed by the salvage company that found
the vessel adrift off Midway Island last year.
According to industry sources, Sunbelt
Surplus Valve Inc. of Texas filed a lawsuit against the
486-foot Lady Bella in U.S. District Court on February 28,
seeking $4 million for the salvage job. Sunbelt wants to
impose a lien on the vessel and its freight which includes
vehicles, engines, machinery, paraffin, steel pipe and other
The Lady Bella caught fire north of
Midway last August and was abandoned by the crew who were
picked up quickly by a passing vessel. It drifted for four
months before Sunbelt chartered a tug to bring it to Hawaii.